April 30, 2007

Appearance of Design: Intuition or Illusion?

A couple of years ago I happened to catch a musical performance on Fox News. One of the general assignment reporters, Kelly Wright, was sharing a Christian song that he had written. It was called "I Believe," and its message was captured in the very first verse.

Whenever I see a newborn baby cry
Or see the birds flying high in the sky
That lets me know there's a God somewhere

While this is hardly a convincing apologetic for the existence of God, it does harbor an extremely important point. The vast majority of people believe in some sort of Supreme Being. If you ask them why this is so, you will hear a very common answer. To the average man, it is just a matter of common sense: "Look around you; look at the world; look at the beauty and wonder of life; it all had to come from somewhere!"

Life is remarkable and complex, and the more we learn the more amazing it all becomes. The default reaction is to be captivated by it – simply note any child's wonder on a visit to the zoo or a peer into the microscope. People just seem to have this notion that life is special, and the impression of intentionality and design presses hard upon them. For many, to insist that life is a fluke of nature is as absurd as trying to convince them that Mount Rushmore was carved by wind and rain.

This is not merely an emotional response to nature, but an inference from experience as well. The only experience we have of functional complexity originates from the minds and hands of intelligent designers, like humans. It is the same principle that NASA would use to infer the existence of alien life if a mere bolt were found on Mars, and it is the underlying assumption of SETI as they look for extraterrestrial radio signals containing even simple patterns.

Such ideas about life had been the bane of atheism for the better part of history until Darwinian theory arrived to exorcise these intuitions from our consciousness. Prior to Darwin, there were various speculative theories about the origin of life, like spontaneous generation, but they had to be satisfied with being classed more as philosophy than science. Darwin gave atheism the intellectual respectability that it had long sought. One of Darwinian evolution's chief apologists, Richard Dawkins, said it well in his book, The Blind Watchmaker.

An atheist before Darwin could have said, following [David] Hume: 'I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.' I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

Dawkins implies that biological design begs for an explanation. He's just averse to permitting God to serve as that explanation. But unless some alternative explanation can be offered, the intuition that complex order is best explained by a designer – the essence of Intelligent Design – stands unmolested. If I discover in the morning that my fresh-cut wood has been mysteriously stacked by my shed, then I would certainly be justified in thinking that some benevolent person has intentionally done the deed. Perhaps I would be mistaken, and it is in reality the work of a tornado, but until that case can be made I would be in my rights to stick with my initial assumption.

When Richard Dawkins tells us in The Blind Watchmaker that "biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose," he outright admits to the default impression of design. However, he then goes on to explain why this is only a false impression, and that the order and purpose found in nature can actually be explained by evolutionary processes.

It may theoretically be the case that genetic variation and natural selection are the true authors of biology, but that is the alternative explanation offered in answer to the mystery of life. The theory of evolution has prevailed long enough that its supporters now believe it to be the natural and default victor. It may indeed be the reigning paradigm, but with each generation it must labor anew to suppress our intuitions. And this is why, in spite of all the academic and media hype, the purely random and materialist version of the theory continues to be rejected by the majority of the population.

I would propose, then, that the defeat of evolution would put design back onto center stage. Intelligent Design advocates are often criticized for trafficking in the flaws of evolutionary theory rather than offering positive evidence for design. But a critique of evolution is a case for Intelligent Design. As Dawkins admits, nature appears to be "designed for a purpose," and "design" implies a designer of some intelligence. If evolutionary theory fails at making the case that this appearance is merely an illusion, then we are justified in taking the appearance of design at face value. Intelligent Design lies just beneath the waxy veneer of evolution. It only remains to be seen what can truly be scratched off where there is liberty to do so.

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23 Comments:

At 5/01/2007 1:07 PM, Blogger SLW said...

This post makes me realize even my aging, flabby clothes of flesh are really very creative designer genes.

 
At 5/02/2007 2:37 PM, Blogger Paul said...

And God's saving the best designs for the "new creation."

 
At 5/03/2007 5:37 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Just came across this passage in a book I'm reading:

"For millennia, philosophers and plain folks alike have taken it for granted that the order we see in the world is rooted in some kind of transcendent cosmic mind. Ever since Darwin, and only since Darwin, has an alternative viewpoint been available. The theory of evolution represents the most profound and most radical change in the way we look at the world since late antiquity, and its implications touch every facet of the life of reason."
Harold, Franklin M., The Way of the Cell, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 190.

(He's an evolutionist, by the way.) His thought is right in line with my post, though he overplays Darwin's impact a bit. The general theory Darwin articulated so well was already in the air. He just put legs to it. See the book, Moral Darwinism, for an excellent discussion of the genealogy of atomistic materialism, from Democritus to Darwin (and beyond).

 
At 5/03/2007 7:11 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

I think that you would be wrong. I have read 'Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion' and found the arguments therein persuasive.
Our minds are in part shaped by evolution to over-detect pattern and agency. This is a better explanation than that there really is a god. And no, evolution has not been dented by the asymmetric process of criticism from creationists and IDers.

 
At 5/03/2007 9:53 PM, Blogger SLW said...

psi said,
"Our minds are in part shaped by evolution to over-detect pattern and agency."
How in the world is that ever going to be proved? It's unproveable, and to believe that you're exchanging one God for another god.

 
At 5/03/2007 10:06 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Yes, Stephen, and it's a circular argument as well. But that's okay, evolution explains absolutely everything! As I said in the dialog following this post: "it can explain why we're good and why we're bad; why we're happy and why we're sad; why we work and why we play; why we're straight and why we're gay!"

Psio, are you suggesting that there's not really any order and complexity to life: that we're just reading that into it? Or are you saying that it exists, but we just value that more than chaos and simplicity?

 
At 5/03/2007 11:58 PM, Blogger SLW said...

Thanks for routing me back to that earlier post. You folk have some mighty fine discussions here! I put a link to here on my pastoral blog. I hope you don't mind, if you'd rather not, I can remove it easily enough. I thought some of the thinkers who pass my way might enjoy this site and be edified.

 
At 5/04/2007 1:05 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Sometimes the blog posts are just the tip of an iceberg. I've been fortunate to (mostly) avoid an unmanageable flood of critics and the garden variety skeptics. It's allowed the ideas to be explored to a deeper level. It's been something of a mixed blessing that most of my visitors are readers but not commenters. I can't resist the discussions, but I would never have the time to juggle very many at once. Some of what I post here is done with the idea in mind that it may go onto the LifeWay apologetics site. Releasing it here first, where it can be subjected to challenge, is a good way to insure that I tighten my screws and make defensible claims.

Sure you can add a link. Not sure why I wouldn't be pleased to have it. I've reciprocated with a link in my Friends & Linkers of Pensees page.

 
At 5/04/2007 6:51 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

slw said:
How in the world is that ever going to be proved? It's unproveable, and to believe that you're exchanging one God for another god.
There is a lot of good evidence that evolution is the mechanism by which living things have attained their form. What I said is a corollary of this. It is interesting that you use the term 'proved'.

 
At 5/04/2007 6:58 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Paul,
Could you please explain why you think the argument is circular.

 
At 5/04/2007 7:03 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Our minds are in part shaped by evolution to over-detect pattern and agency.

It always surprises me when this argument comes up. Evolution caused us to believe in morals, therefore, there are no morals. Evolution caused us to over-detect pattern and agency, therefore we're not justified in inferring pattern and agency. David Hume also argued in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding that our whole notion of causation is just a habit of the mind brought on by over-detecting pattern (seeing things closely joined in space and time). Do you honestly thing that means we're not justified in inferring causation? Hume argued in the same book that our assumption of the uniformity of nature (that past experience can tell us something about the future) is just a habit of the mind and can't be proved. Do you think it follows that the future will NOT resemble the past? If so, then experience can tell us nothing. There's goes the whole scientific method!

The argument from evolution always surprises me because it's as if people think that as long as evolution caused us to have some idea that we're therefore not justified in having that idea. If this premise is true, then there goes all of our cognitive faculties--our belief in the external world, our belief that our memories correspond to a real past, our belief in logic and rules of inference, etc. Don't you think it's more reasonable to think that evolution would produce minds that are able to perceive the world accurately rather than inaccurately most of the time?

I have Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume, but I haven't read it yet. Maybe I'll read it sometime and blog on it. David Hume is one of my favourite philosophers.

 
At 5/04/2007 7:40 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

ephphatha,
You seem to have responded in a way that people do when they have heard an argument often. Ironically, you detailed this in one of your own blogs a while ago, entitled 'when arguments go awry'.
Consequently, you have citisized views I have not expressed. I believe we do have morals. I think we are justified in inferring pattern and agency. It is just that we can get even better at it if we explicitly compensate for built in bias.
Hume was right about the Uniformity of Nature in my view to the extent that it cannot be proven. Similarly inductive logic is a formal fallacy but is nonetheless very useful. We do have regularities in our sense experience and our minds do frame constant regular conjoining of events in terms of causation. It works in general. Discussion of the nature of causality is apt to get rather fiddly and I am not going to get into that here.
On the point about evolution being liable to produce minds able to perceive he world accurately, well I think minds do a fantastic job, but given the limitations of the process of evolution and the apparent complexity of the universe, I think that assuming minds ought to be better if evolution is true is erroneous.

 
At 5/04/2007 9:17 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

psiomniac, if I've misunderstood you, would clarify your point for me? You said, "Our minds are in part shaped by evolution to over-detect pattern and agency. This is a better explanation than that there really is a god." I get the distinct impression that you think people mistakenly infer design because evolution shaped their minds in such a way that they would automatically infer design where there is no design. You seem to think it's more likely that evolution has caused our minds to infer incorrectly than that minds correctly infer design. That's what I was responding to. After reading your post over, I still get the same impression. Would mind clarifying for me what you meant? Thanks.

I question whether you really understood what I was getting at. I, too, agree with Hume that the uniformity of nature can't be proved. He said our assumption of the uniformity of nature is a mere habit of the mind. I got the impression that you were saying the same thing about our tendency to over-detect patterns and agency. It's just a habit of the mind. Evolution made us that way. But you seemed to be saying that since it's just a habit of the mind brought on by evolution that we're therefore not justified in inferring patterns and agency. By that reasoning, we're also not justified in assuming the uniformity of nature. But since I think we clearly ARE justified in assuming the uniformity of nature, then we're also justified in inferring pattern and agency.

I didn't mean to imply that you don't believe in morals. I was just giving another example of the same kind of argument that takes this form: Evolution caused us to think X; therefore, we're not justified in thinking X. That seemed to be your argument against our natural tendency to think God designed everything. I found the argument faulty because, by the same reasoning, we're not justified in believing anything brought on by habits of the mind, including causation and the uniformity of nature, but also logic, the past, and all kinds of other things that can't be proved but that are nevertheless justifiable beliefs.

Sam

 
At 5/05/2007 11:36 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Psio,

Sam's final paragraph sums up my thoughts on this exchange. It also sets up my response to your question about circularity in your argument.

Sam said: "Evolution caused us to think X; therefore, we're not justified in thinking X." "X" being the natural tendency to see design in nature, which is an article of support for ID (per my post). Therefore, since you insist evolution is true, then all appearances of complexity, order, and purpose are removed as support for ID.

How would it be if I claimed that Christianity is proven to be true, and since it includes the doctrine that some ideas are from the pit of hell then you are simply being led by your rebellious nature and demonic influence to see circumstantial support for evolution and to be blind to the support for intelligent design? Whether or not I believed such a thing, it is neither objective evidence for my case nor a persuasive point to make.

 
At 5/07/2007 1:20 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

ephphatha,
psiomniac, if I've misunderstood you, would clarify your point for me? You said, "Our minds are in part shaped by evolution to over-detect pattern and agency. This is a better explanation than that there really is a god." I get the distinct impression that you think people mistakenly infer design because evolution shaped their minds in such a way that they would automatically infer design where there is no design. You seem to think it's more likely that evolution has caused our minds to infer incorrectly than that minds correctly infer design. That's what I was responding to. After reading your post over, I still get the same impression. Would mind clarifying for me what you meant? Thanks.

I'll try. First I think it is important to realise that this is not just a Boolean 'you can either correctly detect agency or you can't' scenario. It is more like a process that we all do and sometimes we will get false negatives and sometimes we will get false positives. Most of the time, within the context that resembles the one in which evolution developed this ability, we get it right. However, just as with thinking about probability with large numbers, when we step outside this context, we are much more prone to bias and faulty thinking. Another example is thinking about very large scale or small scale things. Now, it makes sense in evolutionary terms to have a slight bias to over-detect agency rather than under-detect it. This is because in the former case getting it wrong usually means feeling a bit foolish, whereas getting it wrong in the latter case might mean being eaten or going hungry.
Within everyday contexts, similar to those in which evolution honed our ability, when we get it wrong there are ways to check and correct errors. But when we step into the realm of metaphysics and speculate about the appearance of design or of agency at work to create and maintain the universe, well let's say that our intuitions are as good as most peoples intuition about assessment of risk with large numbers, namely not very good at all.

I question whether you really understood what I was getting at. I, too, agree with Hume that the uniformity of nature can't be proved. He said our assumption of the uniformity of nature is a mere habit of the mind. I got the impression that you were saying the same thing about our tendency to over-detect patterns and agency. It's just a habit of the mind. Evolution made us that way. But you seemed to be saying that since it's just a habit of the mind brought on by evolution that we're therefore not justified in inferring patterns and agency. By that reasoning, we're also not justified in assuming the uniformity of nature. But since I think we clearly ARE justified in assuming the uniformity of nature, then we're also justified in inferring pattern and agency.

That clarification did help. I think we are justified in detecting agency and in assuming the uniformity of nature. But knowing the inherent biases that we bring to these ways of thinking can enhance our accuracy. In particular it helps us to validly question our intuitions about the appearance of pattern (design) or agency. We must do this in the light of all the evidence available to us.

I didn't mean to imply that you don't believe in morals. I was just giving another example of the same kind of argument that takes this form: Evolution caused us to think X; therefore, we're not justified in thinking X. That seemed to be your argument against our natural tendency to think God designed everything. I found the argument faulty because, by the same reasoning, we're not justified in believing anything brought on by habits of the mind, including causation and the uniformity of nature, but also logic, the past, and all kinds of other things that can't be proved but that are nevertheless justifiable beliefs.

Like I said, this is not a Boolean variable, it is not black or white. It is about credible and rigorous scrutiny of our habits of mind in order to prevent us applying them where their writ does not run.

 
At 5/07/2007 1:35 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Paul,
I hope my reply to Sam answers your criticism. The assertion that my argument is circular rests on the premise that my argument says:

"Evolution caused us to think X; therefore, we're not justified in thinking X."

This premise is false.
However, I want to take another tack. Suppose you could prove a version of Christianity that entailed ID is true. Then we might need to show why it is that there is so much evidence for evolution. In that case I think it would be valid for you to counter that some ideas come from the pit of hell, provided you could show that this claim was consistent with the proven Christianity and that theologically, it made sense for this kind of idea to be one of them.
My point about the over-detection of agency merely serves to neutralise the argument that the only credible reason that the world shrieks 'design' at some people is that ID is true. Whether or not ID is true must be decided by appeal to evidence independently. It is because I think that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming that I can offer a post hoc explanation of why things look designed without circularity.

 
At 5/08/2007 1:51 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Psio,

I would by no means concede that the evidence for evolution is "overwhelming." Putting on my objective hat (as much as I can make it fit), I can only call the evidence "circumstantial." Some of what you would surely classify as "evidence" for it I might only allow as being "in line with" evolution. But that is a different thing than "proof" of evolution. If ID is true, surely you can see that it doesn't mean that no apparent support whatsoever for evolution could possibly be found. That might only be the case if the Designer had made every single species out of entirely novel parts, i.e., no similarities, hierarchies, shared components, or functional reuse. However, even if this were so, then I am fairly confident that some alternate complaint would be leveled against God (e.g., "It looks like a million gods did the designing. Why wouldn't your God be more uniform and efficient in His creation?")

I still don't think your point stands regarding the over-detection of agency, for three reasons.

1) As my post argues, if evolution can be successfully refuted, then you are left without both your explanation for life and your supposed explanation for why we might see design in nature. The default position is not emotional neutrality about life, with ID advocates coming along and stirring people to shriek "design"; the default position is that people see something in need of a cause, and evolution is simply the new kid on the block offering a story that negates the necessity of "design" as an explanation.

2) Dawkins and others like him admit the perception of design, but simply attempt to explain genetic drift and natural selection as the real "designers." They, too, know there is something to be explained. They don't simply explain away the "appearance of design"; they explain what did the dirty work. If you want to appeal to your experts in this matter, then by all means, here's your chance.

3) I perfectly understand the issue of reading design into the data, like looking at lottery numbers and finding your own birthday, or seeing a rabbit in a cloud. However, I don't think it is a matter of subjective perception to read purpose, complexity, and order into something like a flagellar motor. If this were not the case, then you'd have no grounds for telling the difference between something like Stonehenge and a boulder strewn field.

 
At 5/08/2007 6:55 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Paul,
I don't think that hat fits! Nor does it suit you.
I know you have what you regard as valid counter arguments regarding evolution so I did not think you would concede that the evidence in favour is overwhelming. I think that it is, nonetheless.
If you take this as a premise of my argument then my over-detection point stands. You think the premise is false and I think it is true. I doubt we will sort that out in a hurry though.
On your point 1), whilst it is true that if evolution were refuted my over-detection argument would fail, it is not true that ID would win by default. We would simply have to look for evidence in support of another theory. The appearance of design cannot constitute evidence for ID without circularity. There would have to be independent evidence.

On 2) Remember that I stated that we do detect pattern and design correctly most of the time if the context is not too far removed from experience. A lot of design has happened and I would not dispute that. I think evolution did it. To suppose a designer did it is to over-detect agency at work.

on 3)This point commits the error of applying an argument by analogy outside the realm in which it is warranted, in other words, applying it about things outside our experience. We can see the complexity of the flagellar motor but it is not valid to infer that it is the result of conscious design.

 
At 5/09/2007 12:46 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Psio,

Counter-arguments I have in spades. I'm trying to decide if I want to keep pressing forward with them or move on to other matters. To expand on what I said last time, I think most of the support for evolution is simply a matter of apparent support rather than smoking guns; whereas many of the criticisms of it are often showstoppers, with the answer being in the form of, "We're working on that." Unfortunately, I think you will always give evolution the benefit of the doubt because it is what most scientists believe and because it is the "scientific" solution. There is a saying that scientific axioms die a hard death. I fear that where evolution is concerned that its death would only make a ghost of it.

"whilst it is true that if evolution were refuted my over-detection argument would fail, it is not true that ID would win by default. We would simply have to look for evidence in support of another theory."

Here's the $64,000 question: Why would we have to look for a theory at all? What problem or question is in need of a theory? There is an observation about life that begs for an explanation. What is that observation?

"A lot of design has happened and I would not dispute that. I think evolution did it. To suppose a designer did it is to over-detect agency at work.
...
We can see the complexity of the flagellar motor but it is not valid to infer that it is the result of conscious design."


Again, we infer something when we see things like this; otherwise we would not be stunned to see them. Evolution is most certainly not what we "infer"; it is simply the theory of origin offered to assuage our astonishment. If we found a rotary motor lying on Mars, would we think NASA foolish to detect agency at work on the planet (i.e., that life was there or had visited once)?

 
At 5/09/2007 8:05 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Counter-arguments I have in spades.
Of that I have no doubt.

I think most of the support for evolution is simply a matter of apparent support rather than smoking guns; whereas many of the criticisms of it are often showstoppers
If you are right, then yes. I think you are wrong and that you are part of a process whereby some people engage in an asymmetric passtime of criticism without the discipline imposed by actually doing science. I'm sure you are more than capable of doing science but recycling creationist ideas is not that. There are an infinite number of ways to misconstrue what is going on and then show how the flawed paradigm falls to pieces. Perhaps some people find this persuasive. They might regard these counter arguments as 'show stoppers'. But why stop at evolution? After all, just try asking physicists to unite general relativity and quantum mechanics. They can't can they? Is this because their theory of gravity is flawed? Maybe things do not 'fall' but are intelligently pushed down.

Unfortunately, I think you will always give evolution the benefit of the doubt because it is what most scientists believe and because it is the "scientific" solution.
No, not at all, I just respond to the evidence to the best of my ability.

There is an observation about life that begs for an explanation. What is that observation?

Our observation is of complexity that fits organisms for survival.

If we found a rotary motor lying on Mars, would we think NASA foolish to detect agency at work on the planet (i.e., that life was there or had visited once)?

No, but we might think it foolish to stretch the analogy between an artifact and living organisms in the context of the biosphere, too far.

 
At 5/13/2007 9:10 PM, Blogger Paul said...

"I think you are wrong and that you are part of a process whereby some people engage in an asymmetric passtime of criticism without the discipline imposed by actually doing science."

Is "science," then, defined as the effort to prove evolution? What scientific experiments would you suggest one engage in to disprove evolution: to try to prove it and then see if I fail? The task of proving it is, or should be, well covered already. That ID proponents are regularly accused of slacking at the task of finding answers is witness to the fact that there are genuine gaps in the necessary proofs. I know you disagree, but I would argue that bridging the biggest gulfs for evolution lie ahead of it, not behind it as though we are simply fleshing out the small details.

Some things simply bear the burden of proof, not disproof, and offer no obligation for belief until they have succeeded. If you claim that you have traveled from Florida to Venezuela by hopping the Caribbean Isles, I'm not sure what experiments I should do to disprove you. There are physical and conceptual problems with evolution, and as I have argued, evolutionists have the difficult task of explaining, in defiance of our natural intuition and experience, how someone could get to Venezuela without plane, boat, or Central American passage.

In any case, there are indeed those persons seeking to do research that would be germane to the claims of ID and the limitations of evolution — fellows like Dr. Ralph Seelke. And this new site is designed to be a clearinghouse for information on such activities: http://www.researchintelligentdesign.org

"There are an infinite number of ways to misconstrue what is going on and then show how the flawed paradigm falls to pieces."

This is the second time you've made a statement like this. Not sure what it really means other than that I could twist the evidence to make it look like there are problems with evolution. Perhaps, though deception is not my intention; I think that the issues are genuine. However, the same may be said about the evidence for evolution. One could stack raw data up many ways to make it seem like support for evolution. I have admitted before that this is a very complex and agenda-laced area.

"But why stop at evolution? After all, just try asking physicists to unite general relativity and quantum mechanics. They can't can they? Is this because their theory of gravity is flawed? Maybe things do not 'fall' but are intelligently pushed down."

I'm not entirely sure that anything metaphysical rides upon the task of uniting the theories of physics. For that reason I am less cautious of the speculations of science in this area. But, I don't think it is fair to compare biological evolution to something as immediately verifiable as the force of gravity. It this were not so, then this debate would have been long since ended. Since you bring it up, I might mention that forces, such as gravity, are not exactly "explained" in any case. The best we have done is to quantify them, not explain how objects can interact from a distance with a force that is inexhaustible.

"I just respond to the evidence to the best of my ability."

And you are an atheist because of the "evidence?"
You have evidence that the universe burst into existence due to some natural phenomena?
You have evidence that its delicately tuned laws of physics are a lucky roll of the dice because we are one of infinite universes?
You have evidence that life actually arose from simple chemistry?
You have evidence that a prokaryote has changed into a eukaryote, and you know the chemical pathways?
You have evidence that consciousness, will, emotion, and morality can be produced from complex chemistry?
You have evidence that Jesus didn't actually say what is claimed and rise from the dead?

I think there are surely some presuppositions haunting your thinking.

"Our observation is of complexity that fits organisms for survival."

Right, that they are designed and tuned for certain purposes, which, of course, permits their survival. The question relates to why such a complex thing should exist and what we think when encountering it. A warship is a complex "organism" that is fit for survival at sea. It is designed, but is not even self-sustaining and self-replicating.

"we might think it foolish to stretch the analogy between an artifact and living organisms in the context of the biosphere, too far."

And the fact that the machine is just one of a variety of other machines within a system of integrated complexity, within a biosystem of other complex systems is supposed to make it any less astonishing? How about if we found on Mars a rotary motor inside of a machine in a robot assembly plant that was run by robots?

 
At 5/19/2007 8:58 AM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Is "science," then, defined as the effort to prove evolution?
No. Science might falsify it but that does not appear likely.

What scientific experiments
would you suggest one engage in to disprove evolution: to try to prove it and then see if I fail? The task of proving it is, or should be, well covered already.

I would say that attempts to falsify evolution so far have failed. You would perhaps argue that this is because it is framed in an unfalsifiable way and I would argue that so far it has passed the tests put to it.
If the genetic code of worms had been more similar to chimps than our own or if a species could be shown to have changed in such a way as to be incompatible with what is known about molecular biology or genetics, then evolution would have been falsified. There are many other examples.

That ID proponents are regularly accused of slacking at the task of finding answers is witness to the fact that there are genuine gaps in the necessary proofs. I know you disagree, but I would argue that bridging the biggest gulfs for evolution lie ahead of it, not behind it as though we are simply fleshing out the small details.

I don't disagree that there are huge gaps. The sheer complexity of it all makes it astonishing that we have managed to work out as mutch as we have. You might well be right also that most work is ahead. ID'ers aren't really slackers though, that would imply that they are engaged in a common task but just not pulling their weight. What the ID movement does is focus on a difficult problem and propose inadequate models and then demonstrate that these models fail. When scientists manage to complete the thousands of researcher-hours and propose a plausible solution in terms of evolution, the ID proponents simply move on to another problem. That will always be an uneven contest.

I'm not entirely sure that anything metaphysical rides upon the task of uniting the theories of physics. For that reason I am less cautious of the speculations of science in this area. But, I don't think it is fair to compare biological evolution to something as immediately verifiable as the force of gravity. It this were not so, then this debate would have been long since ended. Since you bring it up, I might mention that forces, such as gravity, are not exactly "explained" in any case. The best we have done is to quantify them, not explain how objects can interact from a distance with a force that is inexhaustible.

Biological evolution is different in some ways to some branches of physics that deal with gravity. However, when we look at attempts to find a grand unified theory and apply this to cosmology then there are more similarities, both in terms of retrodiction and theological consequences. Some explanations of gravity are attempted though surely? General Relativity peels one skin off the onion and if gravity waves are confirmed that might begin another peeling.

And you are an atheist because of the "evidence?"
You have evidence that the universe burst into existence due to some natural phenomena?
You have evidence that its delicately tuned laws of physics are a lucky roll of the dice because we are one of infinite universes?
You have evidence that life actually arose from simple chemistry?
You have evidence that a prokaryote has changed into a eukaryote, and you know the chemical pathways?
You have evidence that consciousness, will, emotion, and morality can be produced from complex chemistry?
You have evidence that Jesus didn't actually say what is claimed and rise from the dead?

I think there are surely some presuppositions haunting your thinking.

I think a proper response to this is outside the scope of this thread. I think I will start one on my blog and tackle it there, does that seem fair?

How about if we found on Mars a rotary motor inside of a machine in a robot assembly plant that was run by robots?

Then it would be an open question as to whether they had been consciously designed by an outside agent. If they were at one time biological then became cyborgs then robots then perhaps not.

 
At 5/27/2007 7:35 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

I have now started a thread on my blog in response to your series of questions.

 

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